Abdullah should not disappoint Malaysians by failing to intervene in the controversy over the 10% NSE toll hike which will be the last but one of the major tests of his first full-year premiership
by Lim Kit Siang
(Ipoh, Friday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, should not disappoint Malaysians by failing to intervene in the controversy over the 10% North-South Expressway (NSE) toll hike which is to come into effect on 1.1.2005, which will be the last but one of the major tests of his first full-year premiership.
If in 1999, the NSE toll hike could be deferred by three months, there is no reason why the 2005 NSE toll hike cannot be deferred by two months for the very same reason – public outcry at the unfair and lopsided NSE toll rate structure – to allow for a full public study of its long-term implications.
Abdullah should also intervene to restore public confidence in the government’s trustworthiness as the Cabinet had given its approval for the 10% NSE toll hike without giving full weight and justice to public objections to the toll hike, including the unanimous objection of all Members of Parliament from both the ruling coalition and the opposition.
Although the Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu solemnly promised in the Dewan Rakyat last Tuesday, December 14, 2004 that he would convey the unanimous opposition of all MPs to the NSE toll hike to the Cabinet, the very fact that the Cabinet gave its approval for the toll hike the very next day could only mean that the nation-wide objections including those of Members of Parliament from all political parties, had not been given due and proper consideration.
PLUS profit for this year has been estimated at RM782 million, which is expected to increase to RM858 million in 2005 following the 10% toll rate hike – or a difference of RM76 million a year or some RM6 million a month, not all of which could be attributed to the 10% toll hike.
It is therefore most regrettable that the PLUS management has rejected off-hand the proposal to defer the NSE toll hike by two months – when the costs in terms of profit foregone would not be more than RM10 million, a sum which PLUS should be able to raise with greater efficiency, productivity and exercise of greater economy.
One area to exercise greater economy will be in the remuneration sector, as one director received remuneration in the region between RM600,000 to RM650,000 last year.
The PLUS management has said that from the toll collection which is estimated to be RM1.4 billion this year, 25 per cent are spent for maintenance and operation, 18 per cent for upgrading and repairs, 34 per cent for debt repayment and 23 per cent allocated for shareholders.
Questions have been raised as to whether in the circumstances of the history of the NSE privatization, the allocation of 23 per cent for the PLUS shareholders is excessive.
Before he goes off on official leave after his official trip to India. Abdullah should order a two-month deferment of the 10% NSE toll hike to ensure that the millions of NSE users in particular and the 25 million Malaysians in general do not continue to suffer a raw deal under an unfair and lopsided NSE toll rate structure.
* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman